Gareth Southgate revelled in an “incredible feeling” after watching his England team beat Sweden 2-0 to secure a first World Cup semi-final appearance in 28 years.
Harry Maguire and Dele Alli headed past Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen in each half and Jordan Pickford made several crucial saves as England produced a convincing performance in Samara just four days after being forced to play 120 gruelling minutes and participate in a tense penalty shootout against Colombia.
Few outside the England camp predicted such a remarkable run in Russia, and after the match Southgate was in no mood to downplay the fact that his team are now within one game of a first World Cup final since 1966.
“We knew it was going to be such a different game after having extra time and penalties against Colombia with all the emotion and the energy,” he told BBC Sport.
“We had to withstand a lot of physical pressure but the resilience of the team was crucial. We knew we would have the majority of the ball and it was a case of breaking them down because Sweden are a really well organised team.
“Over the years we have underestimated them. I’m really pleased for Dele [Alli]. He is best at making those runs for the goal and he can finish. I’m really pleased for him because that’s some drought for him.
“We don’t know who we play yet. Russia in Moscow would be an incredible game to be involved in. Let’s see. I hope everyone at home enjoys tonight because it’s not often that happens. It is an incredible feeling.”
There had been pre-tournament concerns over Pickford’s inexperience, but the 24-year-old has only conceded four goals in five games in addition to his shootout heroics against Colombia in the last round, to help England reach their first World Cup semifinal in 28 years.
And the Everton goalkeeper said he didn’t think about of his lack of experience on the international stage, instead keeping his mind on the task at hand.
“I think [before] this one it was 1990 and I wasn’t born for that, so I’ll take that,” Pickford told the BBC. “We have always said take one game, game-by-game, and we can go on and create our own history but it’s now about rest and recovery, but we’ll work hard and our ability should show.”
Asked about his man-of-the-match performance, Pickford said: “We knew it was going to be difficult against Sweden, we know what they bring to the party and we managed it very well. We worked hard and we’re showing our abilities and our mental side of the game.
“You got to be ready from the start, which I was and you’ve got to be alert and that’ll get you in the game straight-away, so after I made that first save, I think it was against [Marcus] Berg with his header about 47 minutes I felt that was me set for the rest of the game.”
And captain Harry Kane insisted Southgate’s men will feel no team regardless of who their opponent is in Wednesday’s semifinal.
“We played the way we said we would and we attacked the game,” he said of the Sweden win. “Now we are one step closer.
“[Russia and Croatia] both have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s about us as a team. Whoever we play, we will be ready to go again.”